Recently I’ve been salting my reserve of existential dread by reading Paul Roberts’ forthcoming The End of Food, a dense, cheerless forecast about the fragility of the global food supply (it’s spring!). So yesterday I felt particularly gloomy wandering around this year’s Fancy Food Show at McCormick Place. With news reports of Costco rice rationing, Japanese butter shortages, and Haitian food riots echoing through my head, it’s hard to get behind the hordes of showgoers lining up for samples of pate and Epoisses, buffalo sausage, single origin chocolate, and water whose chief marketing attribute seems to be the overdesigned plastic art deco style bottle it’s poured into.
There are probably a number of reason this year’s trade show–titled the Global Food & Style Expo, which encompasses FFF, the All Things Organic Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase–seemed more subdued and contracted than last year’s, and not all of them have to do with my crappy mood. The U.S. imports end of the floor was forlorn and unattended, and the Fancy Food Show slightly less so. But on the other hand the organic component was booming: by my rough guess it was nearly the same size of the other two shows combined. It’s not news that organics have become big business, but the difference between this and last year seemed startling. The New York Times even had a tout there selling subscriptions. Of course that meant a larger share of silliness on display, from organic frozen breaded shrimp, yogurt for dogs, many varieties of unidentifiable bark bars advertised not so much for what they’re made from but for what they’re not, and all sorts of highly processed foods that are permitted to wear the attractive label of “organic.” The absurdity of a lot of this stuff was put sharply into focus at the display for a French Canadian spice company that thought the best way to market its blends was to employ a couple of robotic arms to sprinkle the stuff over uncooked pasta and a platter of weathered-looking salmon (pictured).